Appreciation Day

May 5, 2011

I don’t remember what Mrs. Dodge looked like. I was in her kindergarten class at #4 School in Rochester, New York. The room smelled of crayons and tempura paints. There were small chairs and tables just my size and lots of light brown paper, which tore easily but felt smooth under my 5-year-old fingers. I don’t remember any of the other children in the classroom or even what learning materials were there besides the art supplies.  I discovered I could draw in that classroom. As I bent over the sheet in front of me, making thick waxy lines with the stubby crayons stored in the old coffee can on the table, the other children would cluster around and ask me to draw pictures for them. I liked kindergarten. And I liked Mrs. Dodge, even though I don’t remember her face or even her voice these many decades later. But there was one thing about her that I never forgot.  Mrs. Dodge could read upside down. Every day at reading time the children would sit in a semi-circle at Mrs. Dodge’s feet as she read from a book on her lap. The book would be balanced on its bottom edge with the pages facing outward so that we could see the pictures while she read to us, taking on the voices of characters and turning the pages slowly when it was time. It was the most magic time of the day. And I looked forward to it even more than art time. More than anything, I wanted to learn how to do that. This was in the days when we weren’t expected to read in kindergarten. The only way the stories in books could become real to me was through others. Mrs. Dodge opened that door for me in a way that has stayed with me forever.

I thought about Mrs. Dodge when I received an email reminder that May 6th is Provider Appreciation Day. What an excellent opportunity to let those who educate, guide and care for the littlest ones know how valuable they are. Early childhood educators can make an impression on the lives of the little people in their care that is deeper than any that comes after.

Not so long ago I was sharing stories of parenthood with the founder of Environments. She said, “My daughter is 33 now.  One day, a couple of years ago, I asked her what had been the most meaningful period of her life. I was expecting her to say something like ‘When I went to Europe’ or about some other great experience we’d provided for her. But instead she said, ‘When I was in Miss Linda’s Montessori school’.” Mother/founder then paused and told me, “That’s when I knew my life was on the right track, and I was doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

To all of you who work in the early childhood community — as teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, care givers, and in myriad other ways — I say thank you.  Good job. What you’re doing makes a difference.  And, yes, I can read upside down.

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